Developing Legal Research Skills
Developing legal research skills means more than knowing how to get around on the internet. Law has its own unique combination of primary and secondary sources of information that all lawyers must understand and use. Most of these sources are available both online and in law school libraries. CDTA teaches and emphasizes the development of soft skills, such as legal research skills.
Soft skills complement the hard skills that law students learn as the substantive law. Legal research skills are extremely important to any lawyer. You don’t have to be a lawyer with decades of experience to possess excellent legal research skills.
The Law Libraries of 2019 are uniquely both physical and virtual spaces. The latter holds a wealth of information in the form of legal directories and databases. A competent law librarian can introduce any law student to both portals of information by showing them some of the common, key sources of legal research.
*First and foremost, take the required time to do the research and don’t cut corners. Good research takes time. Reading a vast amount of complex legal material that includes cases, statutes, reference books, treatises, and law review articles is enormously time-consuming. Then there’s the time required to take notes about everything read, reviewed, and scrutinized.
*Pinpoint and precisely frame the issue being researched. Just about every lawyer has expended hours of research only to discover that they have wrongly framed the query. This may be the result of not adequately and correctly knowing the facts that shape the issue. No lawyer can settle for knowing only the issue to research. Research requires context to identify fact patterns that are similar to the facts in your case.
*Focus on the jurisdiction whose law applies. Make sure you have found and reviewed all the relevant cases in this jurisdiction. If applicable, it may be useful to research and review cases involving the judge hearing your case.
*Start with general sources of information before moving to those that are more specific. Before researching specific cases and statutes, read through general treatises and reference books to obtain an overview of the subject matter. A quick overview will help identify the context to classify any found cases that address an issue.
*Use the tools that are provided. The Westlaw key numbering system, which assigns a number to every imaginable legal topic, is extremely useful. Accessing any key number online will provide headnotes for every case that addresses an issue.
*Go beyond what you find at first glance. What other cases are cited in the cases that you initially researched? Find and read them. What cases cite the cases you found? Find these cases and read them. Rinse and repeat until you’ve reviewed every case on point. Then, if you have the time, explore the fringe area of your issue to see if anything relevant or useful is available.
The California Desert Trial Academy (CDTA) believes that practical experience and certain “soft” skills coupled with substantive knowledge, provide the best opportunities for a successful, rewarding, and prosperous legal career. The CDTA emphasizes soft skills as an important component of achieving academic and professional goals. Call us today at (760) 342-0900 or find out more online here.